Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be observed in Johnson City on Monday without a street named after the legendary civil rights leader, as is the case in most sizeable communities.
That doesn’t mean efforts aren’t under way to accomplish that task.
“We’re looking at trying to get Buffalo Street from University Parkway to Water Street,” said Joyce Goines, Johnson City-Washington County NAACP branch president. “We’ll need to deal with Steve Neilson in the city planning office, and we’re hoping to get an appointment with him to get things started.”
It turns out an official proposal to name a street, or a section of a street, after King has never come before the City Commission, which is something that must happen.
“We attempted to get a section of Legion Street named after Dr. King, but I think it turned out that part of it belonged to the American Legion,” Goines said. “He sacrificed for everybody — for families all over. Why we continue to not have one is something I don’t understand. Bristol has one.”
That’s true for both Bristol, Tenn., and Bristol, Va. Kingsport also has a Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. So does Elizabethton.
Former Branch President Ralph Davis was in the mix when the push was on to get part of Legion Street named in King’s honor. One of the biggest obstacles was the issues involved with changing addresses.
“There’s a lot more involved than just the naming of a street,” he said. “We had talked with a couple of commissioners off the record, and they were in favor of it. It just seemed to be a matter of logistics.”
Neilson was not immediately available, but city Public Information Specialist Keisha Shoun provided the procedural steps needed to rename city streets.
First, an application must be submitted. That application is then reviewed by city planners and is submitted to all other city departments as well as 911 for comments and to make sure there are no conflicts.
The request then goes to the Planning Commission, and if the request is approved it goes to the City Commission. Only one reading is necessary. Once approved, the renaming becomes effective immediately, and street signs are then made and changed.
A $335 fee applies to all street renaming requests.
“I’d certainly be in favor of it, and my guess is the other commissioners would be as well,” Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin said. “This has been something that’s been discussed for years, and I believe University Parkway was seriously looked at. But nothing’s ever come before the commission, which it would have to in order to be finalized.”
Typically, the biggest “impediment” has been the effect a street renaming has on businesses, he said.
“If it was a residential area, it may not be as bad, but businesses are really affected when they have to change their addresses. In any case, I’m certainly open to the idea.”
Commissioner Jenny Brock said she was open to considering any matter brought before commissioners, whether by individuals or groups.
“I well recall during my campaign the effort to get Dr. (Hezekiah) Hankal recognized by naming the health department building after him,” she said. “What was needed was organized support.”
Brock said going forward there needs to be an official request come before the City Commission.
“There’s usually lots of conversation about an effort like this, but it must clear the procedural steps,” she said. “But as far as a request like this, I’m absolutely open-minded about it.”